Opinion

Antonio Villaraigosa struck a blow for justice when he won his bid for City Council in the 14th Council District in East Los Angeles on March 4.

This victory begins to turn around a painful page in our city’s history in 2001 when Villaraigosa’s race to become the first Mexican American mayor in over 100 years was torpedoed because of racism. Then candidate for mayor – James Hahn and his supporters used racist campaign ads and vicious personal attacks to defeat Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa didn’t give up that election day. Instead the former Speaker of the California State Assembly and organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles successfully united a progressive coalition and grassroots campaign that came back to make history. They defeated an incumbent councilman in the city’s primary election, a feat never achieved in Los Angeles before.

There was a deep sense of justice realized on election night at the Villaraigosa victory party. Hundreds jam-packed the hall of the Plaza del Sol in Boyle Heights. Supporters chanted “Si Se Puede,” with tears filling many eyes when they heard that Villaraigosa had beat the odds.

Like his mayoral bid in 2001, Villaraigosa inspired a massive number of grassroots volunteers to work on the ground in precincts. Hundreds of homes had Villaraigosa signs on their front lawns.

On election day 31 percent of voters showed up at the polls in the 14th District—well over twice the 13 percent turnout citywide. Many precinct poll workers reported being kept busy by the largest turnout ever. By the end of the day voters had given Villaraigosa a whopping near 17 point win with 56 percent of the vote. The incumbent Councilman Nick Pacheco received 40 percent and a third candidate 3 percent of the vote.

Although the incumbent councilman is a Mexican American, this race became about raising the bar for Latino representation. Voters in this very working class district decided that they wanted a Mexican American warrior for workers rights and equality instead of a moderate.

Villaraigosa is a charismatic leader whose political agenda is closely allied with the labor movement, civil rights, immigrant rights, educational opportunity and economic gain for working people and the poor. He has a history in the peace movement and is opposed to the war on Iraq. Villaraigosa is also an experienced coalition builder who will not only fight for his constituents’ needs, but will reach out to improve the city for everyone.

The labor movement saw the Villaraigosa campaign as a crucial piece of their goal to transform Los Angeles into a stronger union city.

A labor umbrella organization spent $187,500 for organizers, phone banking and five different mailers in the effort to elect a champion. Members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 11 played a phenomenal role. The Service Employees International Union Local 1877, the United Farm Workers and other unions were rallying members onto the phones and into the streets daily.

Adding to labor’s win is that on election day African American Martin Ludlow, the former political director of the Labor Federation and former staff member of Villaraigosa when he was in the Assembly, made it into a runoff for City Council District 10. If elected Ludlow will join Villaraigosa as a strong voice for labor and a progressive agenda in the council. That potential is why the Labor Federation is now focused on that runoff race.

Another notable election result is that African American Bernard Parks, the former chief of police, handily won his bid for City Council representing South Los Angeles. This was the African American community’s protest response to Mayor Hahn’s slap when he refused to heed their call to continue Parks’ contract after African Americans gave Hahn their overwhelming support in his race for mayor.

Villaraigosa and Parks have been in communication with one another every day since the election. The alliance building there and the potential election of Ludlow could become a turning point in the healing of a rift between Latinos and African Americans after the mayoral race when, African Americans voted by majority for Hahn instead of Villaraigosa. The important progress is that the extended hand is present on both sides.

The walk to justice and equality is not easy. Antonio Villaraigosa, his family and coalition partners took on the challenge. They walked the walk. Now Councilman-elect Villaraigosa, along with his allies, are in a position to shape the political direction of our nation’s second largest city.

Like the Villaraigosa campaign songs says “ain’t no stopping us now!”

Evelina Alarcon is the Coordinator of the Cesar E. Chavez National Holiday Campaign and lives in the Los Angeles 14th City Council District. She can be reached at EvnAlarcon@aol.com


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